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Experiencing Guantanamo Part Four | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Asharq Al-Awsat- The landing and takeoff runway in the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba has become very busy these days. Despite the fact that no new prisoners are arriving from Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is a continuous flow of visiting lawyers, journalists, translators, CIA agents, and investigators arriving at the US military base on daily flights from Fort Lauderdale Airport in Florida. The information team in Guantanamo is headed by Captain Dan Bayer, who is from Illinois, Missouri, and who holds a degree in sociology, and his assistant Sergeant Oliver North. The information team is responsible for providing for journalists and responding to their requests, which are sometimes strange, and at many other times impossible. For instance, the journalists might ask for an exclusive interview with one of the leaders of Al Qaeda, which has never happened before, or for a live interview with an officer of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), who interrogate the Al Qaeda prisoners. Such requests are rejected by the camp administration. The visits by the international press delegations are taking place as the United States is strongly criticized for the treatment of prisoners and their legal status. However, officials have said that the correspondents of the foreign press agencies are visiting the camp according to a regular program that has been prepared for hundreds of media correspondents.

A Russian television official questioned a senior camp official on how the sexual needs of the prisoners are fulfilled; the official wittily answered by stressing that the Guantanamo prisoners adhere to Islam, which forbids sexual relations outside of marriage and considers it a major sin.

Despite criticism, the camp administration stresses that the prisoners are treated well according to the “1949 Geneva Convention,” and they receive “food that is medically and culturally proper.” The officials say that the prisoners “live in a beautiful sunny environment during the day and a fresh environment at night, which is different from the atmosphere of Afghanistan, and the Bagram US base, in which most of them were detained” after arrests following the toppling of the fundamentalist Taliban movement at the end of 2002.

A few meters from the azure waters of the Caribbean stand the walls of Camp Delta. There are instructions that the guards observe meticulously so that they do not infringe upon the modesty of the prisoners, such as preventing female guards from watching the prisoners when bathing after exercise, and preventing the guards from passing in front of the prisoners when they are performing any of the five daily prayers.

The conditions of the detainees range from a strict system that allows 30 minutes of exercise twice a week, to a less strict system of two hours of exercise every day for detainees.

The prisoners, whose cells are always lit up, are subject to permanent surveillance by the guards, who are either patrolling or stationed at the guard watch points.

Asharq Al Awsat visited the kitchen of Guantanamo Camp, which works round the clock to prepare meals for the Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. The standard of cleanliness and organization in the kitchen matches the level found in top European or American hotels. Asharq Al Awsat watched as stacks of fruits and vegetables were carefully arranged. The camp officials say that the kitchen offers three daily meals to the Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners in Camp Delta. These varied meals provide the prisoner with some 4,200 calories every day. An officer at the camp said that the weight of some of the Al Qaeda prisoners has increased to a dangerous level, which made it necessary to submit them to nutrition specialists. The officer said that the kitchen offers “fat-free” meals for the prisoners who need them, special meals for the vegetarians, and low-calorie meals; he pointed out that the weight of many of the prisoners had increased by some 20 pounds.

All the meals are prepared in accordance with Islamic Shariah. There is more than one authenticated certificate indicating that the food is prepared according to the religious requirements of the prisoners. These certificates are kept in the office of Sam Scott, the woman responsible for the kitchen, who is of Korean origin and immigrated to the United States in 1973.

There are 150 cooks working in the kitchen. All types of bread are baked in the kitchen in special ovens. The officials of the Guantanamo camp stress that special meals are prepared for the prisoners during the holy month of Ramadan to break fast and before the fast begins at sunrise; special attention is given to the provision of suitable quantities of fresh dates, imported from California (it is considered Sunnah to break fast with dates by Muslims).

Asharq Al Awsat has obtained two-weeks menus for Al Qaeda prisoners, and tasted various meals in the kitchen before they were transported in special heat-preserving containers to Camp Delta, the Fourth Camp, and the Fifth Camp. Mrs. Scott says that the menus are changed every two weeks. She adds, “There are choices and a diversity of food offered to the prisoners. Scott points out that the menu is packed with various types of proteins, such as fish, meat, and chicken. She explains that the kitchen she supervises every day offers some 7,000 meals to the prisoners and guards, stressing that there is no difference between the food offered to the guards and that offered to the prisoners. The camp officials say that the meats are imported from Oklahoma, the fruit and vegetables from Florida, the chickens from Virginia, the dates, honey, oranges and orange juice from California.

According to the menu, Friday breakfast consisted of pita bread, honey, two glasses of milk, cheese omelets, and tea. Lunch, which is offered after the Friday prayer, consisted of a piece of bread, fried potatoes, green salad, grilled breast of chicken with garlic, butter, salt and pepper, ketchup, and an orange. As for dinner, it consisted of pure wheat bread, apple, a plate of meat and mixed vegetables, a piece of gateaux, nuts, and dates for the Fourth Camp prisoners and Pepsi Cola for the Iguana Camp prisoners.

In a brief visit to the hospital, which is close to the walls of the camp, Dr. Howard, who is in charge and is a US naval officer, revealed that most of the prisoners suffered from obesity. He said that 10 to 15 percent of the prisoners were under psychiatric treatment by specialized doctors. He said that there were two prisoners in the camp who were fed through tubes because they were on hunger strike. He refused to reveal the nationalities of the detainees. He talked about a regular check up for the prisoners who were over 50 to check for prostate cancer. A female psychiatrist at the hospital said that the prisoners were refusing to talk to the women working at the hospital, whether these women were doctors, nurses, or guards.